Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following story is based on Today’s Gospel from Luke 23. This is the story of a thief named Titus. Titus had lived a bad, bad life. Titus had spent the majority of his life living in the desert. Titus would seek to rob or murder anyone that would dare cross his path. Titus was even guilty people said of killing his own brother. Titus wasn’t particularly close to anyone. He did have an occasional partner in crime named Dimachus. Titus and Dimachus one day finally went too far with their actions. They encountered a few Roman soldiers on the Road to Jerusalem. Titus and Dimachus were initially excited since they knew Roman soldiers to be wealthy. Titus and Dimachus attacked these soldiers from behind, and then beat them death so that word of their crime never got out. Jerusalem in recent years though had been having plenty of people with Political Zealots, Religious Zealots, and even terrorists like Barabbas. When the Roman authorities heard the tale of these two thieves, Titus and Dimachus quickly jumped to the top of the most wanted list. Titus and Dimachus were soon captured. They were sentenced to death by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. The sentence was bad, a sentence of crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered to be the most shameful and disgraceful way a person could die. Titus and Dimachus had embarrassed the Romans so they were going to be punished for it. Crucifixion was such an awful way to die that the Romans would not allow its own citizens to die such a death. Crucifixion was a special sentence, a sentence of death reserved purely for enemies of the Government. As soon as Titus and Dimachus were sentenced they were forced to carry their own wooden cross beams nearly a mile outside the city, climbing nearly the whole way to the Jerusalem’s highest point atop the hills of Moriah. Yet in the midst of their walk away from Jerusalem, they saw a man behind them sentenced to crucifixion by death just like them only this man was not only surrounded by soldiers but also a large crowd. This man had been whipped so bad that he could barely walk. Roman soldiers had forced another man to carry his cross for them.
When Titus, and Dimachus arrived at Golgotha, otherwise known as the Place of the Skull. They were not alone. Joining them was a man they were calling “Jesus”. Jesus was called the “King of the Jews”. Titus was hung to Jesus’ right. Where as Dimachus was hanging to Jesus’ left. Titus at first couldn’t understand why Jesus would be called the “King of the Jews”. His body was a bloody and battered mess. Titus at first though that this Jesus was a crazy person, that’s why the fellow soldiers and on-lookers were mocking him. Titus then felt the need to join in with their insults. Titus actually heard this King of the Jews say as the Roman soldiers hung up upon the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This so-called King had been rendered so powerless that the Roman soldiers as a way of mocking his pending death began to divide up his clothes by casting lots. There was a loud crowd of people watching this King of the Jews be put to death to their delight. They mocked him further by saying “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, the chosen one”. The soldiers then approached his stretched out body, then gave him an offer of sour wine as a way to make fun of his thirst. The soldiers then further mocked him by saying “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself”. The soldiers then hung a sign above this man’s head to explain the reason for this death “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS”.
Dimachus kept up with his mockery of the so-called king as he cried out “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! Dimachus knew he was about to die. Dimachus was never going to give up his toughness. Even while being executed by merciless Roman soldiers. Dimachus had convinced himself that he was going to die with his pride intact unlike this foolish King of the Jews. Dimachus wished for his last breathes on earth to be spent cursing out this make-believe king. Dimachus had gone to the Cross defiant. Dimachus was going to stay himself right up until the bitter end. The more Dimachus hurt on the inside, the more he delighted in mocking Jesus.
Something came over Titus though as he heard his friend join in with the crowd, join in with the Soldiers, and laughing at this King of the Jews. Titus had been around plenty of thieves and scoundrels in his life yet this man seemed different for reasons he couldn’t place at this given moment. The Thief even in this King’s great suffering saw something unexplainable compared to how the world normally works. Titus noticed that even in the midst of all this torture and mockery that the King didn’t retaliate or fight back. Yet he didn’t just back down or cower in these last moments either. The King had no interest in trading fire for fire. He had merely mouthed the words “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Something about this whole incident struck Titus as awkward from what he had previously thought (before he had encountered this so-called king). This man was able to love in the sense of hatred; this man was willing to extend grace in the presence of injustice. This man was extending forgiveness to the very men that crucified him.
Titus saw a sense of power. Titus saw a sense of love. Titus saw a sense of mercy. Titus saw a sense of grace. Titus’ saw all this as this King’s body laid battered right along besides his, a King who even though seemed nothing, but weak and broken in that very moment. Titus came to believe that one day that this King’s power would be revealed for the entire world to see.
Titus eventually snapped at Dimachus saying “Do you not fear, God, since are you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due rewards of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong”. Titus then proceeded to speak the words of a broken man with no one else in the world to turn saying “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”
Jesus the King of the Jews then looked upon Titus, hearing his confession. Upon hearing his humility, years of wrong, self-loathing, and guilt had led of all of Titus’ life to this very moment. The King turned his head towards his right with some of the last ounces of strength in his body. The last image that people have of this king’s death was his head hanging in Titus’ direction. The king then mouthed out these words “As Today I say you will be with me in Paradise”.
These words that in that very moment indicated that no one can ever be too far gone, to be beyond the reach of Christ.
Darkness would soon cover the whole land. As the King cried out “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. As the king breathed his last breath, Titus would breathe his last breath not long afterwards.
Roman soldiers then walked up to Titus after his death and broke his legs to prove he was really dead. There was not a sign of life in Titus’ body. Titus’ mother looked on at this whole spectacle bawling her eyes out at her son’s life could have gone so wrong to end up like this, only to be consoled by the Mother of the King named Mary who assured her that everything would soon be alright.
Charles Spurgeon describes this story best when he says “What makes this story memorable is that it occurred when Our Lord was at his very lowest, yet the Thief was able to see him as a king anyway.”
This story is memorable because we would think like Titus’ came to think. We would see the King’s agony as evidence of his defeat. Yet Titus went to death truly believing that the one who hung alongside him was going to bring us into his Kingdom.
Titus was the King’s last companion on Earth. This King was not an ordinary King to die with a criminal such as Titus. Yet this wasn’t any different for this King. This was the King’s whole life. This King didn’t associate with the rich or powerful like the Pharisees or the Sadducees. This King didn’t sit around with the other religious big wigs of the day. This king associated with Tax Collectors and Sinners, and was left to die with a thief.
The fact that Titus was the last person the king associated with, the last person our lord made a promise to. This story says something to you and me. It says that the Lord shall choose us; the Lord shall remember us as he enters into his Kingdom. This king is different. This King didn’t seek to only enhance his power. This King didn’t seek to smite all his enemies. This King last companion on earth was nothing more than an ordinary sinner. A sinner that had been mocking him moments earlier, yet still promised to bring him into his paradise.
This King was certainty different then other kings. This King was more than just an ordinary ruler. This King had gone to his death with a purpose, a purpose of ushering in a new heaven, and a new earth. A Kingdom not governed by fear or power, but rather a Kingdom governed by mercy and grace. A Kingdom that Titus the thief would soon experience. Amen
 Luke 23:33
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:35
 Luke 23:36
 Luke 23:37
 Luke 23:38
 Luke 23:39
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:40-41
 Luke 23:42
 Luke 23:43
 Spurgeon, Charles. “The Believing Thief”. Metropolitian Tabernacle of Newington. 7 April 1889. Web. Spurgeon.Org. November 18, 2013
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As we celebrate All-Saints Sunday today, I want to tell you the story of a Saint and the impact that one such Saint made on my life. Now when I was growing up, I didn’t have a Grandpa that enjoyed spending time with kids.
Yet I had an ever bigger blessing, I had a Great Grandpa Arvid. Arvid lived a few blocks away in Lindstrom in a big, brick house that reminded you of Wrigley Field with the Ivy hanging down from it. Arvid’s place would be my get away from home.
Perhaps the most special year of our relationship was the summer of 1991 as the Minnesota Twins completed a turn-around from “worst” to “first” bringing the World Series Trophy back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Arvid’s Daughter “My Grandma” would often have to leave for the night. So when I was in Junior High, I would often spend the night at Arvid’s house to make sure nothing happened to my ninety- something Grandpa who had trouble moving through the night.
Arvid died in November of 1995 at the Age of 95. Arvid might have made 100, yet his diet was absolutely horrible. That’s why I liked hanging out at his house so much. I rarely saw Arvid without a bucket of Caramel Corn in his hands.
My first experience with death was visiting as a 16 year old nursing home in the last few hours of Arvid’s life as he struggled with his last breath.
Arvid’s legacy in Lindstrom was such that the week he died, the Chisago County Press editorialized about his death. Arvid brought a lot to the town of Lindstrom. Arvid founded the Victor Agency in 1948, the business my Dad runs today. Arvid served as Mayor. Arvid was the last original member of Trinity Lutheran Church to die. Arvid brought the Dairy Queen to Lindstrom that eventually became the most profitable DQ in Minnesota.
But the one thing that I’ll remember from that editorial given about Arvid’s life is how the editor John Silver recalled that in all of Arvid’s life experiences, no one had come across him saying a bad word about another person.
In my line of work, you see people brought down from their public image all the time, where words don’t match reality. Yet Arvid remains the figure I try to emulate in relating to other people even when I fall short in these regards.
What I’ll remember most about Arvid is how he would absolutely drop everything for others. One time I was 8 years old and had broken my leg due to my stupidity. Arvid calls me up on the phone asking if there was anything I needed.
I said I wanted “Dorpa-Scorpa”. Dorpa Scorpa was dried Cinnamon Toast, so hard that I still have a chipped tooth from eating it as a kid. Remember we’re all Swedes in Lindstrom. Five minutes later, Arvid shows up with a bag of Dorpa Scorpa as my request had become instantly the most important thing in his life.
I remember Arvid’s funeral. We were so close that it ended up being the first time in my life that I ever spoke in front of a church as I delivered a eulogy. I remember thinking that I was going to be able to tough it out, throughout the service. The worst thing you can do as a 16 year boy is cry. Yet leaving the sanctuary I remember the reality of Arvid’s loss just overwhelming me as I broke down. I stand before you today almost 18 years to the week after Arvid passed. I have been blessed with new relationships, yet I know that I will never come across another Arvid.
Our Gospel Lesson for Today comes from Luke the 6th Chapter. Today’s lesson comes from the Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6. The Sermon on the Plain is known for speaking some very dramatic language. It describes the people who are blessed as those who are hated, those who are poor, and those who are begging for just one crumb of food.
The message of our Gospel for lesson for today is simple. The things that Jesus describes are about who God blesses through his gospel, not about individual blessings that we receive. How God is present in the deepest, and darkest places of human despair.
A few years ago, I met an old High School Classmate for Lunch. I hadn’t seen this classmate named Matt for a few years. Matt walks up to me and without any tact whatsoever says to me “Boy-Stew you’ve sure gotten gray”, gray just like my great-grandpa.
Hundreds of days had passed marching closer to death since Matt and I had last seen each other. Hundreds of days had been spent trying to deny this fact. Hundreds of more days have been spent looking in the mirror trying to convince myself that I look the same as yesterday, looking in the mirror seeing that I’m not as strong as I might think.
For to whom can forgiveness be extended but the weak? Who can be given mercy other than the broken? Who can be given new life but the dead?
“None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” –Romans 14:7-8
Luther on his death bed, put the Christian’s life in the most simplest of terms. “We are all beggars. This is most certainly true.”
I want to talk a bit today about the nature of Sainthood. A number of years ago, a Time Magazine article came out with the scandalous title “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa”. This story detailed how Mother Teresa had been held up as a Hero and Saint for nearly half a century, while at the same time struggling with her own sense of doubt. Prominent Atheists jumped on this story as proof of the untruth of religion as how even one of its most notable proponents struggled with self-doubt. Yet perhaps Mother Teresa’s story tells us something else. It tells us how Saints don’t become Saints due to the human will, Saints rather become Saints because their molded into them. For it’s at moments when we’re at our lowest, that our need for a savior tends to be the most revealed.
One thing worth noting about Sainthood is Saints are never described throughout the scriptures in singular terms. Saints aren’t merely Super Heroes of the Faith. Saints are rather the whole communion of believers. The word Saint means “Holy”. We are called Saints not because we are ourselves are without flaw, we are declared to be Saints because the Holy One seeks to call us home through his gospel.
A few years ago there was a Saturday Night Live Character named Debbie Downer played by Rachel Dratch. Debbie Downer’s claim to fame is that whenever someone was on the verge of having a fun conversation, Debbie Downer would come back with some really unpleasant fact about life. Debbie Downer is actually a fairly good illustration of how too many people misunderstand religion as pointed out by Religion Blogger Kate Norris. Too many people tend to think of a Christian’s life only in terms of human glory.
Today we come face to face with the harshest downer of all in death. Death is not beautiful. Nor is Death desired. Death is not natural. Nor is Death peaceful. Death is never what God intended for his creation. As evidenced by the tears it sheds and the pain it brings. What happens in Death is we come face to face with Death’s tragedy. We come face to face with the fact that we’re just as mortal as those who have gone before. Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Yet in Death we are brought forth to the cross. So we do not face death with uncertainty. We face death with confidence because of the one who conquered death on our behalf.
“I am the resurrection, and the life”, says the Lord, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”- John 11:25-26.
Today we remember Matt Banovetz who rose from the Pelletizing plant all the way to being the final president of Reserve Mining. Yet Matt never changed one bit. Matt who had sleepless nights because of the burden of watching his friends and neighbors future be thrown into chaos as the Reserve was in his final days. Matt was so hurt by all this, he decided to retire rather than move on when the plant shutdown.
I’ll remember being with Dee Guzzo in the last years of her life. As she struggled with the loneliness brought on by Tony’s loss. As her eyes began to fade, as her hearing began to go, as her body kept breaking down. Yet Dee’s bond with her family was so strong that family members would spend the night at her side in the final hours. Keep trying to say the last words to her not unlike I had to say to Arvid years ago. Dee’s dying days were a testimony to how much she had given to others throughout the course of her life.
We remember Ardell Granlund for his quiet and gentle nature. We will remember Ardell always being willing to give of his time to help others as an electrician. We will remember how he loved our ladies cooking.
We will remember Ivy Grotberg as a feisty, old lady. Ivy loved music especially hymns and harmonica. Ivy will be remembered for her sense of humor. But Ivy will be remembered most of all for always putting her family first.
We will remember Pam Mattila for her ability to always see the best in other people. How Pam through her illness never wished to see other people brought down. How Pam will be remembered this Christmas Eve as the Matilla’s gather to light Ice Candles as Jon plays Silent Night at the Cemetery.
We will remember Debbie’s Nelson’s stirring renditions of Harper Valley PTA and These Boots Were Made for Walking along with her deep laugh when working at the Ye Old Store.
We will remember Lee Roy Jacobson’s tragic loss. How there were so many people at Sychar you’d think the Fire Marshall would shut it down, but the fire-men were the ones standing along the side wall as we heard stories of his sense of humor and zest for life.
We will remember Virtus Schultz trying to flirt with any woman who came his way. We will remember Virtus’s greeting, smile, and continual presence at the Northwoods. “We will remember how Virtus served as an example for so many men and women for years and years in the AA Program. How Virtus believed that if he could have his life brought back together than anybody else could”-Andi Stebelton Bourne Remembrance
How all of the Saints that we recognize today influenced lives of those around them much like Arvid influenced my own. I remember being 18 years old, trying to explain to others, where I believed I was being led with the rest of my life.
I remember sitting down at My Sister’s confirmation with my Pastor Tom. The same pastor that had buried my Great-Grandpa two years earlier, I told Pastor Tom I was feeling called to go to School to pursue a career in Ministry.
Pastor Tom just looks at me saying ‘I can see it after seeing you with your great-grandpa growing up.” Arvid wouldn’t have known it at the time, but if it wasn’t for how his life exemplified grace as I’m getting into all sorts of trouble at school and home, I’m probably doing something else, far away from here. We never know how the Saints around us impact us.
As I think back to Arvid’s funeral. I can’t remember much. I can remember processing to the Front of the Church as family. I can’t remember what Pastor Tom said. Yet I’ll forever remember something that Pastor Tom did during the sermon, something that I’ve never before seen during a sermon.
Pastor Tom had the congregation open up their hymnals and sing. He had them sing the song that we’ll sing in a just a few minutes. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. A hymn that points out the true meaning of All-Saints Sunday, a hymn that points out how any Sainthood we possess comes because Our Lord knows us not just in our triumphs, but our Lord knows us when we’re at our lowest, and most broken. How Our Lord takes us to the very place of our death and judgment only to bring us on the other side through his resurrection.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”-John 5:24
So that even when we’re weak as we’re struggling for our last breaths, even as we’re weak as we doubt the future and uncertainty through our tears, on the cross we are made strong. How by his death Jesus destroyed the power of death and how by his resurrection he opened the Kingdom of Heaven for all believers.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed”-1 Corinthians 15:51-52.
All this so that Sinners may be declared to be Saints. Amen
 Van Biema, David. “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith.” Time Magazine. 23.Aug. 2007. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Davis. “The Exposed Lies of Saints.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA.10.Oct.2010. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Norris, Kate. “Debbie Downer”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 4 June 2010. Web. Oct.29.2013
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.